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Rapping the Arab Spring

January 14, 2014 Leave a comment

From the World Policy Journal

By Sam R. Kimball

TUNIS—Along a dusty main avenue, past worn freight cars piled on railroad tracks and young men smoking at sidewalk cafés beside shuttered shops, lies Kasserine, a town unremarkable in its poverty. Tucked deep in the Tunisian interior, Kasserine is 200 miles from the capital, in a region where decades of neglect by Tunisia’s rulers has led to a state of perennial despair. But pass a prison on the edge of town, and a jarring mix of neon hues leap from its outer wall. During the 2011 uprising against former President Zine El-Abdine Ben Ali, prisoners rioted, and much of the wall was destroyed in fighting with security forces. On the wall that remains, a poem by Tunisian poet Abu al Qassem Chebbi stretches across 800 feet of concrete and barbed wire, scrawled in calligraffiti—a style fusing Arabic calligraphy with hip hop graffiti—by Tunisian artist Karim Jabbari. On each section of the wall, one elaborate pattern merges into a wildly different one. “Before Karim, you might have come to Kasserine and thought, ‘There’s nothing in this town.’ But we’ve got everything—from graffiti, to breakdance, to rap.The kids here, they’re talented; they’ve got passion,” says a local youth who assisted Jabbari in the prison wall project.

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Anthems for the Arab Spring

May 23, 2012 Leave a comment

From USA Today (UK edition)

Rappers provide anthems for the

Arab Spring

By Naomi Westland, Special for USA TODAY

Eighteenth-century French revolutionaries marched to La Marseillaise, and two centuries later, rock music spurred opposition to the Shah of Iran and Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. It’s no different with the uprisings in the Arab world.

  • Egyptian rapper El Deeb's song Stand Up Egyptian encouraged protests against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.“Arab hip-hop, especially that coming out of Tunisia and Egypt, played a major role in creating the soundtrack to the so-called Arab Spring,” said Joshua Asen, a documentary filmmaker and writer of the Hip Hop Diplomacy blog.
(Photo by Jeff White – Egyptian rapper El Deeb’s song “Stand Up Egyptian” encouraged protests against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.)

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Rapper Faces Death Threats in Iran

May 15, 2012 Leave a comment

From The New York Times

By THOMAS ERDBRINK

TEHRAN — With lyrics that tread on ultrasensitive topics and an album cover that shows the dome of a mosque in the shape of a woman’s breast, Shahin Najafi is an international rapper who elicits an intense reaction here.

Schahryar Ahadi/dapd

But Mr. Najafi’s latest song, “Naghi,” named after a Shiite saint, has prompted a particular uproar. Opponents of Mr. Najafi are using a recent fatwa by a leading cleric, Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani, which labels all those insulting the 10th Shiite imam, Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, also known as Imam Naghi, as apostates. An Islamist Web site then offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills Mr. Najafi, who was born in Iran, raps in Persian but lives in Germany.

Leveraging Hip Hop in US foreign policy

March 11, 2012 1 comment

From Al Jazeera and the longer article,  “Race, Rap, and Raison d’Etat” by Hisham Aidi.

The US government wants to improve its tarnished image abroad by sending out ‘hip hop envoys’ [GALLO/GETTY]

In April 2010, the US State Department sent a rap group named Chen Lo and The Liberation Family to perform in Damascus, Syria.

Following Chen Lo’s performance, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was asked by CBS News about US diplomacy’s recent embrace of hip hop. “Hip hop is America,” she said, noting that rap and other musical forms could help “rebuild the image” of the United States. “You know it may be a little bit hopeful, because I can’t point to a change in Syrian policy because Chen Lo and the Liberation Family showed up. But I think we have to use every tool at our disposal.”

The State Department began using hiphop as a tool in the mid-2000s, when, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the resurgence of the Taliban, Karen Hughes, then undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, launched an initiative called Rhythm Road. The programme was modelled on the jazz diplomacy initiative of the Cold War era, except that in the “War on Terror”, hip hop would play the central role of countering “poor perceptions” of the US.

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The Mixtape of the Revolution

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

From the New York Times

The Mixtape of the Revolution

By SUJATHA FERNANDES
Published: January 29, 2012

DEF JAM will probably never sign them, but Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré, from a small town about 100 miles southeast of Dakar, Senegal, and Hamada Ben Amor, a 22-year-old man from a port city 170 miles southeast of Tunis, may be two of the most influential rappers in the history of hip-hop.

Mark Todd

Mr. Touré, a k a Thiat (“Junior”), and Mr. Ben Amor, a k a El Général, both wrote protest songs that led to their arrests and generated powerful political movements. “We are drowning in hunger and unemployment,” spits Thiat on “Coup 2 Gueule” (from a phrase meaning “rant”) with the Keurgui Crew. El Général’s song “Head of State” addresses the now-deposed President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali over a plaintive background beat. “A lot of money was pledged for projects and infrastructure/Schools, hospitals, buildings, houses/but the sons of dogs swallowed it in their big bellies.” Later, he rhymes, “I know people have a lot to say in their hearts, but no way to convey it.” The song acted as sluice gates for the release of anger that until then was being expressed clandestinely, if at all.

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An Embrace of the U.S., Spun and Mixed by Iraqis

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

 Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times

BAGHDAD — With his New York Yankees jersey, baggy jeans embroidered with “U.S.A.” down one leg and his casual greeting of “What’s up?”, Ali Jabbar, a rapper and a student in Islamic studies, seems an alien in his own culture.

The Hip-Hop Rhythm of Arab Revolt

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The Arab Spring is widely known as a Twitter rebellion, but underground hip-hop artists also played a very important role. Robin Wright, author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World,” talks with Jerry Seib about the phenomenon.

In November 2010, a young Tunisian rapper who called himself El General posted a song on his Facebook page and YouTube. He had no alternative.

The government of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had virtually banned hip-hop. Its musicians were not on government-approved playlists for state-controlled television or radio. They were rarely able to get permits to perform in public. And most were barred from recording CDs.

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